I was sitting in the hot springs pools of Holtville when a fellow bather began telling me of a magical place: a place so beautiful you will cry when you leave; a place that you may arrive to stay a day or two and will stay for two weeks, or until your food and water finally run dry; a place in the middle of a dessert with towering palm trees, a manicured green grassy lawn, a pond, warm, steamy spring water, a daily air show and the friendliest people. The only catch is that this place is in the most remote part of Death Valley, with no paved road access, the only route in or out is a 60 mile drive down a dirt track precariously cut through a mountain pass before plunging into the hidden Valley. After reading about a slew of flat tires, blown shocks and a flipped truck we were hesitant to brave this long treacherous road but we finally decided to take the plunge!
A long three hour drive through the southern pass got us to the oasis without a problem but surely keeps the crowds from nearby LA and San Fran away. If asked to describe these springs to an outsider I would say....In the 50's some hippies and local miners came here, where the springs ran hot and built several stone and concrete pools. They planted palms trees and built beautiful rock patios and pool decks. They created an irrigation system where water ran out of these tubs and down ditches lined with tall green grasses and palm trees, through the lawn and into the Koi pond where a little bird everyone affectionately called "Cooter" resides. Turns out this little bird has been here for a while. Blown in by a storm some say and now enjoying the greenery, abundance of water and community that has kept us stationary for this long and kept many visitors coming back for years. Feral donkeys run wild, terrorizing unattended camp sites, since being set free from their mining jobs generations ago. Futuristic fighter jets dance in the skies above while occasionally popping down for a close proximity fly by to say "Hi" to the nude bathers. The glow of coyotes' eyes approach fire circles at night looking for tasty scraps of food. Strangers circle the communal camp fire every night to strum a guitar, pluck a homemade washtub bass, sing and tell stories of lives back home or on the road. Towering red mountain peaks stretch out of the Valley and into the deep blue skies, walling in the oasis from the foreign, outside world.
After several days here the oddness and tranquility begins to overtake one's mind. Frustration and anger are non-existent here. There is no cleaning staff, employees or security. There is no garbage on the ground, the pools and washrooms are immaculate. People who come here are affected by its unique beauty and are compelled to contribute. The pools are drained and cleaned daily, there is a kitchen with warm running water to wash dirty dishes. There are several clean toilets. There is a shower to rinse one's naked body before soaking. Supplies for the shower, kitchen, bathroom and pool cleaning are over flowing from the generosity of visitors. There is even a well stocked library with such works as the Book of Mormon and, it appears, every book Bill O'Reilly ever wrote (I guess they have to end up somewhere).
After a week spending our days soaking in the natural hot spring water and relaxing with some of the most interesting, friendly and genuinely generous people I have ever met I am not sure I ever want to leave. Luckily our friends that pulled out this morning left us all their perishables and so our pipe dream of never leaving is moving closer to reality. With no jobs or upcoming responsibilities the thought of leaving just doesn't feel right. Why not just stay for one more day?
Since relaxing with strangers I now consider my friends for the last few days and watching them leave, I now feel the the torch has been passed to a new generation. I am no longer a visitor, I now feel like I own a piece of this place, along with all the others who have scrubbed the pools, picked up the burro poop, chopped fire wood or cleaned the bathroom. We observed the ebbs and flows - the changing tides of the springs - as waves of travellers and adventurers made their way through the area. Slightly more trucks would pull in leading up to the weekend and the place would clear out as each weekend warrior made their way back to their day jobs. Yet we remained. Cleaning the Sunrise tub daily, reading on the green lawn under the towering red peaks to the west and swaying palm trees above, or soaking in the tubs with the newly arrived faces and names.
When I would sit on the wooden bench in front of the kitchen sink to do dishes, Cooter would often come walking by. His massive lizard like feet forming and molding to the rocky ground as he silently crept along. He would often creep around behind people, getting close but hiding in their blind spots. I like to think we had a small connection; that he felt safe in my presence, even. On one of the final days at the springs I even had Cooter eating a piece of carrot out of my hand.
As we left the hot springs and drove northward on wash-boarded gravel road my mind began thinking of reasons we should stay for one more day, maybe even two more weeks. Why not stay? Are we ever going to find a better place than this to park our van? One thing is for sure, I will be back to this magical place in the future. Hopefully very soon. Now that I have left I am a little envious of Cooter. He gets to enjoy paradise everyday.